What can you believe?
Poor old Thomas has been maligned. He was not a doubter. His fellow disciples were doubters, but he wasn’t. He was a straightforward unbeliever. A natural man, a man of facts. Of observable data. No ghosts or apparitions or wishful thinking for him.
If he was going to believe that Jesus had come back from the dead, he wanted to press the flesh, to check the wounds, to examine the body. And rightly so. No use believing an event for which there was no evidence.
Coming back from the dead was a big claim – is a big claim. It had never happened before in this way in the whole history of the human race. History was against it. Philosophy and theology was against it. Maybe such a thing would happen at the end of the world, but not in ordinary times.
If it was true it would mean that the greatest threat to human life had been removed. Genuine immortality might be possible. As it turned out the scientific materialist Thomas was in for a great shock. Not only did Jesus offer his body for examination, but it was obviously a real body. Not a ghost or spirit. But a body with flesh and bones.
So is the story true? Is that what really happened to Thomas? How could the modern scientific materialist check this out? Historical events are not able to be observed in quite the same way as current events. Although one could easily doubt the truth of the reports of many current events. Manipulating images and sound bites, suppressing some of the story, putting a spin on it and preventing others from seeing the raw data – are ways of false reporting.
In this respect we are better off in some ways when we examine the stories from the ancient world. Although the data is limited, it is also very public. And there are well established methods of historical inquiry. It is possible to check the historical reliability of the reports of the resurrection. There is no doubt that a significant group of people not only believed Jesus had risen, but they gave their lives for the belief and changed the world in the process.
John has left enough evidence to believe. Not just that he is telling the truth, not just that Jesus was raised, but believing the truth that Jesus is God – and that is where immortal life is found.
All in All
Dale recently referred to several texts from Ephesians “And God put all things under his (Christ’s) feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (1:22-23), and “In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” (4:9-10). The second text interprets the first. The humiliation of Jesus, climaxing in the cross, qualified the Lord to extend his presence in everything. Let me open this up.
God as Father, Son and Spirit shared the work of creation (e.g. Gen 1:1-3; John 1:1-3) and are always present to every part of it. Whilst never less than God, the Son’s becoming human added a limited nature to his divine nature. Limited, that is, before his ascension into heaven. Whilst the resurrected Christ appeared and was seen and touched under the limitations of space and time (e.g. Luke 24:39), the ascended Lord possesses no such limits. His ascended glory is of such an order that when his beloved disciple John (John 13:23) has a vision of this heavenly splendour, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17). This is the glory of the Lord that we share in as his Bride and it is destined to “fill the whole universe”. How did the man from Galilee come to possess unlimited authority (Matt 28:18; Acts 10:36)?
It’s not that the Son of God “put off” his divine nature by Incarnation and then “put off” his humanity in ascending to the glory of the Father (John 17:5). The glorious Christ is still fully one of us, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim 2:5). There is no time, place, or purpose where there is any distance between the eternal Father and the humanity of Jesus. God’s great purpose has always been for us to share such splendour. In the End we will be as present as Jesus is to “all things” (Eph 1:22-23; 4:9-10). The realisation of our coming greatness in Christ grows as we daily submit to the humbling work of the cross.
What is Truth?
"What is truth?" "You can't handle the truth!" "The truth shall set you free." How many truth quotes do you know? And is the statement of Epimenides the Cretan true, "All Cretans are always liars."?(Tit 1.12).
Truth is increasingly cancelled out these days in favour of the views of whichever dominant voices shout the loudest. Does this matter? Can ideas become accepted by the old fashioned method of warfare. Whoever is loudest and strongest wins? That is part of the idealogical battle being fought in western countries at the moment. A battle that unsettles many because just like a civil war one always has to be on one's toes to see how the battle is going and which side to side with. This is made worse by the continuing changes in the issues that the battles seem to be about. For the battle is not just about any one issue. It seems to be a battle about unsettling all claims to truth, and even personal opinion, in favour of a culture dominated by an unstable Mind. Or a destabilising mind. That takes away the foundations of reason and truth in favour of a free-floating opinion world, that hijacks important social questions and cancels out any rational or civil discussion of them in favour of loud shouting that makes people feel guilty without the opportunity to a fair hearing. A slave society.
Christians on the other hand know true truth from Jesus and his gospel as freedom that sets people really free.
Gifts for The King's Great Purpose
Many of us have been through intense discussions about gifts over the years. Often these discussions are connected with parts of 1 Corinthians and are focussed on different gifts people may or may not exercise in the local church.
These discussions are often helpful. But there is another aspect to gifts which we should remember. It is seen clearly in Ephesians 4, where the gifts are not seen as gifts of the Holy Spirit, but as gifts of the ascended Christ. And they are seen in a bigger context than that of the local church. Or to say it better, they are seen in the context that the local church finds itself in. That is as the display to the powers of the universe of the great wisdom of God and as they place where Jesus is carrying out his plan to unite all things in heaven and on earth in himself. The body of Christ is the realisation in space and time of the carrying out of God's great purpose i Christ. And that is where the gifts fit in - to build up this body to be a fully grown up embodiment of Christ. Here is the passage.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4.7-13
God is Good - all the time
Another Annual Meeting allows us to stop and take stock of how God has been at work among us. There are many encouragements. Our giving has risen wonderfully this year. New ministries are beginning to be established and old ones are adapting and developing. New people have joined in some of the work.
Covid 19 has had a positive effect on us I think. It has allowed us to be together in different ways and has allowed us to develop ways of meeting and praying that has given us some new life.
Whether the isolation phase was long enough for us to have a proper Fast, I'm not sure. That will become clearer in the next six months as we see if anything has changed in how we minister together.
Overall my reading of the Annual Reports suggest that St MArk's is in a healthy state, with good growth happening and the potential to keep growing. I think there is a good unity of heart about the gospel and the Lord Jesus and an increasing desire to serve and live in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
As we keep going we need to watch out for some deceptions. One is to put inappropriate trust in professionals. Clergy and other trained people are very useful for the life of the church. However they are not the church, nor are they the chief workers. We need to trust the Spirit filled people of God to do the works of God for which they were created (Eph 2.10). Not left to their own devices but equipped and trained by those whom God has provided for that task.
Institutionalised passivity and institutionalised rote behaviour are inimical to the life of Christ's church. Let us keep on praying that the encouragements we have seen in the last year will keep growing and blossoming in lives filled with the Spirit.